The Chris Phillips Conundrum: What To Do With Him


Over the past 7 months it seems like most Ottawa Senators fans have forgotten that Chris Phillips is actually still under contract with the team for one more season. He was mysteriously “injured” during most of the second half of the season, and non-coincidentally the defense and team looked better overall. They didn’t play better just because Phillips was out of the lineup, but it certainly helped as he is at the stage of his career where is he a liability on the ice.

He played only 36 games last year with a measly 3 assists and he turned 37 a couple of months ago. I don’t know about you, but that’s not somebody who I want to be sending out on the ice. Because he is still under contract, he is creating quite the conundrum for the organization. It’s not his fault that he’s still with the team, as it was the Senators that wanted to keep him here. I feel bad for him because he’s done nothing wrong besides play poorly on the ice due to his declining skill set.

Nevertheless, Phillips is a problem on this team and he is rarely talked about. I think people think that if we don’t talk about him then he will just sort of go away and not demand any ice time.

There’s three problems with him still being on the team, and let’s start off with the one that worries Ottawa the most:

1. His Cap Hit

Phillips is making $2.5 million this season, and for a budget team that is quite a hefty price. That is extra money that could have been used to acquire another top-four defenseman or a top-nine winger. Instead, it will be dead money sitting in the press box on most nights. Luckily for them, there’s only one year left on his deal but this contract will hurt for now.

2. He Will Hurt The Team When He Plays

He used to be a solid defenseman, but over the past few seasons he has rapidly declined. The Senators can’t trust him anymore, and I’m surprised it took them until this season to realize this. Dave Cameron finally started scratching him, just months after Paul MacLean was putting him on the first pairing with Erik Karlsson.

Every piece of data (and the eye test) shows that he isn’t capable of playing in the NHL anymore, and Ottawa can’t afford to have him on the ice. Here is his HERO chart, which paints him as a bottom pairing defenseman at best. When you factor in his age and his very slow foot speed, I just don’t see how you could be optimistic about him.

Furthermore, I took a look at his Bombay Chart courtesy of War On Ice.

The only thing Phillips was average at was his time on ice and his penalty differential. For comparison, I included Eric Gryba, who wasn’t exactly a fan favourite in Ottawa. In this graph even Gryba looks like he’s miles ahead.

He was dead last on the Senators in corsi at 44.4%, and he dragged down his teammates when he was on the ice. I hate to pile on, but it’s so easy to prove that he’s very ineffective.

3. He’s Blocking Other Prospects

Another big issue I have with him still being on the team is that players like Chris Wideman, Fredrik Claesson, and even Mikael Wikstrand will have a small chance to make the team. I think Wideman will make it because he was so impressive in the AHL last year, but Claesson needs to get a chance right now too. Wikstrand probably needs some seasoning in the AHL, but he may be ready quite soon.

Nov 4, 2014; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Phillips (4) shoots the puck in the first period against the Detroit Red Wings at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Ottawa currently has seven returning defenseman, plus Wideman who should make the team. That means Phillips is taking up an extra spot, as he’s basically the second scratch right now. The younger players need to make an impact, but they can’t if a declining veteran is taking his spot. Even after trading Gryba, they still have a logjam and Phillips is the biggest piece that needs to move.

Final Thoughts:

It really is a shame that he has one year left on his deal, as everybody (even himself) knows that he can’t keep up anymore. The best thing to happen would be for him to retire, but it’s hard to just leave $2.5 million on the table. It would solve all of the three aforementioned problems, but it’s unlikely.

I feel awful for having to talk about Phillips like this, as he really does seem like a great person and a great teammate. I don’t live in Ottawa, but from what I here he does fantastic work in the city with lots of different organizations. It’s hard to see when a former good/great player loses his touch and has to end his career with people saying he should retire.

He has to face the facts that he’s just not as good as he used to be

It must be tough for him to go through this, as we forget that hockey players are just regular humans too. But this is the reality, and the NHL is a business. He has to face the facts that he’s just not as good as he used to be.

Next season it’ll be interesting to see how the team handles him. I could see him playing around 20 games throughout the year, but they might just place him on the IR again for a phantom injury. He will still be on the books but I don’t think he should cause other players to lose much ice time. If he is still getting significant playing time a month or two into the season, then something is really wrong.

But I can’t see that happening, and in reality he will probably finish the season like he did this year: very quietly, with people forgetting he’s still here.

Next: Previewing The Ottawa Senators Free Agent Situation In 2016

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